My experiences both as a celebrity journalist, and my time working at NAM, have greatly influenced my ethical stance as an HIV journalist.
As a celebrity journalist, I had close relationships with music, TV and film companies, and their PRs, and realise in retrospect, that in many ways I was simply an extension of their publicity machine. As time went on, particularly once I was working in Hollywood, the ability to write articles that were honest, accurate and independent became increasingly compromised. I was told what questions I could and could not ask during interviews, and was threatened that if I wrote anything negative about a film or a celebrity, I would not be invited back.
My Hollywood career ended when Brad Pitt's agent complained that I had sold an interview with him to the gay magazine, Attitude, when she had not approved this. Although this was done with the full knowledge and consent of the UK film distributor, they denied this in order to save face with the US parent company, and the result was that I was blacklisted by every major film studio in Hollywood within six months.
When I began my career as an HIV journalist, I was extremely fortunate to be associated with NAM. I fully supported and enjoyed their ethical stance - as an editor I was kept completely separate from the influence of NAM's funders, especially from drug companies.
"Independence, accuracy and impartiality are absolutely central to all of NAM's resources and they are standards we never compromise. We have built our reputation on these qualities and they are the reason we are such a trusted source of high-quality information on HIV."
Now I am a freelance consultant, I have decided that although many HIV treatment writers work directly with drug companies, this is something I will not do. As long as I continue to write about HIV treatments then keeping my distance from Pharma is more likely to maintain my independence, accuracy and impartiality.
On the other hand, although I strive to be independent and accurate when reporting about the criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission, I must disclose that I am not impartial in this issue, particularly on my blog. I believe that the criminal law has no place in regulating disclosure or acts that may lead to HIV exposure and transmission between consenting adults, and that such regulation does far more harm than good.
For more on the ethics of HIV journalism, please visit Journ-AIDS - an excellent website from the HIV/AIDS and the Media Project Journalism Programme at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.